The Mythic Principle

In 1950 Enrico Fermi suggested that Earth should have been visited long ago by visitors from a distant star. However, we seem to have no good evidence of such visitors. This is now known as the
Fermi Paradox.

Fermi’s intuitions about the likelihood of life in the universe and the possibility of interstellar travel led him to ask: Where are the space aliens…shouldn’t we see them? Other scientists have suggested that Fermi was overly optimistic.

The Rare Earth Hypothesis suggests that life in general, and human-like life in particular, is much less common in the universe than Fermi imagined. Human-like life could be rare in the universe either because 1) the conditions necessary for it to arise are rare or because 2) once it does arise it is self-limiting, say by destroying itself or by transforming itself into something else.

As Carl Sagan used to say, we have only just started to wade out into the cosmic ocean. What other forms of life should we expect to find in the universe? In his book “Contact“, Sagan imagined first contact with life forms who were spectacularly more technologically advanced than we are. In contrast, the “Hollywood Principle” says that space aliens need to be very much like us and that it makes sense to imagine visits by beings from other stars who have roughly the same kinds of technology that we now have.

Need to be? Makes sense?

It “makes sense” from the perspective of needing to make silly television shows and movies in which Earthlings endlessly battle space aliens. Sixty years ago the fantasy wars were against rampaging Injuns, now they are against rampaging Klingons. Yawn.

The “Hollywood Principle” says that producers in Hollywood are forced to subject us to the kinds of fantasy aliens that Hollywood knows how to market. The Anthropic Principle suggests that since we exist as conscious observers of the universe, the universe must have been formed in just the right way to produce conscious observers. Some people have suggested various “strong” versions of the Anthropic Principle such as: the universe was “designed” with the goal of generating and sustaining human-like observers.

Why the strong human intuition about our world being created or designed? Fundamental to human nature is our ability to have a Theory of Mind, or as Dan Dennett put it, it is human nature to adopt the Intentional Stance. Our brains evolved tricks like mirror neurons that force each of us to automatically assume that other people think in the same way that I know (from personal experience of our own mind) myself to think. This provides us with a powerful survival strategy by which we each compete against and cooperate with other humans and by which we survive and pass on our genes. This fundamental aspect of human nature is so important and so powerfully built into us that we automatically apply it to everything, not just to our interactions with other humans. When the Intentional Stance is applied to the universe, we imagine that there must have been a creative force that designed the universe as a nice place for us to live. This fundamental aspect of human nature leads, eventually, to optimistic assumptions about the likelihood of life in the universe and it leads us to the Fermi Paradox.

So what is the “Mythic Principle”? I suggest that the Fermi Paradox arises from human nature. The “Hollywood Principle” says that while we are waiting for evidence of ET to become available, we can make big $$$$ by imagining space aliens who want to have sex with us, or at the very least, who can provide us with a 90 minute fantasy war on the big screen. The “Mythic Principle” says that we can reject the silliness of Hollywood and ask: what should the nature of space aliens and their interactions with Earth be in order to allow us to imagine the most entertaining stories?

I think that the “Mythic Principle” leads us down the path taken by science fiction story tellers like Carl Sagan and Arthur C. Clarke. Technologically advanced (and I mean VERY advanced) space aliens should have been here long ago, so what kind of stories can we imagine that involve some variation on the theme of “ancient astronauts” in which those visitors to Earth were vastly more sophisticated than we are? By going down this path I have arrived at what I call the “Exodemic Fictional Universe“. Stories within the Exodemic Fictional Universe include the idea that space aliens are not interested in allowing us to know that they long ago visited Earth. Humans, as a form of life, are potentially very destructive and, as Carl Sagan used to say, we might be a self-destructive species that will not survive our technological adolescence. In his science fiction novel Contact, Sagan asked if there were “tests” that the human species had to pass before being allowed to join the galactic culture of advanced extraterrestrials. His answer was “no”, but “shit happens”, and it can sure feel like we are being tested. If the human species does not last long enough to make contact with space aliens, will those space aliens view our passing in much the same way that we think about the Dodo?

The “Mythic Principle” suggests that the correct human response to the Fermi Paradox is to do our best to imagine stories about space aliens that are consistent with the existence of the Fermi Paradox. The kinds of stories I like involve technologically advanced space aliens who intentionally “hide from us” and leave us wallowing in the Fermi Paradox.

Some stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe:
Manmahtiti Bebobinmahtiti (short)
Moon Hammer (13,000 words)
Fly Paper (21,000 words)
Cellular Civilization (57,000 words)
VirileMail (70,000 words)

Image. Public domain image of Enrico Fermi. Source


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